• 22 Apr, 2024

From a Son to His Father

From a Son to His Father

A Satyameva tribute to one who lived, as best as he could, the Dharma in a long and active public life

my father moved through dooms of love       
through sames of am through haves of give,       
singing each morning out of each night       
my father moved through depths of height       
 

ee cummings wrote these touching lines for his father. As I read through his poem, I think back about my own father who passed away a fortnight ago at the age of 90. And I feel these lines would apply to my him too.  

His name was Satya Narain Singh—the Divine’s Truth. It can also be read as Truth (Satya) God (Narain) Lion (Singh). I feel he fulfilled his name to the best of his ability.  

Most sons love their father. I do too. What is so different then? I think he made a difference in the life of the people around him. More importantly, he lived according to certain values, despite all the difficulties he faced and the failures he encountered in the world. For the world was not ready for his kind of public service and politics.  

I realized this when poor elderly villagers came to me after his services and touched my feet. As I attempted to prevent them from doing so, they said, “We are orphaned too like you today. We do not know who we can go to for help now that he is gone.” And I realized that here was a man who never took a bribe in his life, despite all the work he did for others. He always attempted to help others no matter which side or party they belonged to. Even his opponents. And he was transparent and simple.   

There were times when I would get vexed with his excessive transparency. I remember once a tractor-load of villagers had come to him seeking his intervention in a legal case concerning their land. They gave him a roll of cash bound in some soiled rubber bands. He placed it in a bag and took them with him to see an eminent attorney. I came along too as we had to go somewhere else after his meeting. When he met the famous attorney in front of the villagers, he presented their legal case and then took out the roll of cash confirming with the villagers, “Please count the cash that you gave me. I have not taken anything from it. I hand it now to your counsel.” And we left immediately thereafter. It struck me that he had exaggerated the transparency of his dealings, but he had ensured that his credibility remained unimpeachable. And so he was.   

Now that he is gone and I look at his bank accounts, I realize that he had little money. In more than seven decades of public service, he could have made much more. He did not. That was his greatness. I remember we used to deposit Rs 20 for each member of the household every month at the post office under some government scheme. These built up to a few lacs over the decades of saving.  

He was simple. He barely spent money on himself. He loved his mangoes and sweets from old halvai shops in Jaipur city. But he never took an undue favor or advantage that I know of. Now I have proof of his impeccable honesty looking at his accounts. And I am grateful that I was given the unique privilege of having had a great man as a father.   

He was one of the most efficient administrators I knew. He came from extremely humble beginnings, starting his first job as a typist when he was studying in college. And he rose to reach the highest level of civil service in those days as an IAS officer, what is called the Supertime Scale. Once he retired, he went into politics and social service, did his PhD on reservation at the age of 75, and became one of the foremost experts on the subject in the state of Rajasthan.  

He transformed the city of Ajmer in the years he spent there as a municipality commissioner about 50 years ago. He cleaned up the city of Jaisalmer and turned it into a much sought after tourist attraction as district magistrate, giving an impetus to the local artists and musicians for the first time. He prevented riots in 1984 in Sawai Madhopur with his alacrity and creative thinking by repairing a gurudwara overnight after it had been burnt. And so much more. As a judge at the Revenue Board, he cleared the cases that had been stuck for decades. As Chairman of the Dang Board, he increased the funding for one of the most neglected areas of the country several-fold and ensured that each village got at least one amenity they sorely needed.  

There could be a book written about his management style. When he resigned at the change of government as Chairman of Dang Board, attempts to uncover any pilferage or redirection of public funds by the new government came to nought.   

For his style was of extreme transparency and delegation. He would never touch the money. So, the money trail never led to him. I learnt much of my management style from him. The insistence on integrity and compliance, incessant focus on quality, ensuring that there was always a backup for single source of failures, being systematic and organized in thought process and doing everything with passion and zeal: these were his great qualities which I try to emulate in a foreign land with an entirely different system of governance in another field.     

We lived in a two-bedroom house most of our life. He was too thrifty. He would shut the fan and turn off the light and open the curtains for me while I was reading in my room so that we did not waste precious money. He saved the jobs of countless people with his interventions, got promotions for others, protected others in trouble and even gave directions to the poor villagers who had lost their way while coming over to him for help.  

He worked 12-14 hours a day at least. And wrote 2-3 essays a day shipping them over to the newspapers and journals that still would publish him. To his last day he stayed loyal to his party and the Chief Minister whom he wanted to get re-elected, even when he had received nothing from them all these years.  

As a politician, he refused to bribe others to win elections. He ran for state elections once but refused to use the money I sent him. He would not buy alcohol on the last day to swing the votes already pledged to him. He lost but perhaps I was the only one who felt he had won.  

He was an imperfect man, with a temper, who could not tolerate all the falsehoods and injustice in the system. His heart bled for the patients suffering from silicosis due to improper precautions from work-related injuries in stone quarries. He ran free clinics. He sponsored Volunteer services for patients with significant respiratory difficulties, getting jobs for their families, getting them treatment and unpaid dues from the government. He distributed blankets to the poor in the biting cold, school uniforms and computers for girl students. He supported poor laborers and farmers. He empowered the weakest and the least just by being there for them. All this with a lot of heart and without a thought for self-advancement.   

As I look back at the years, I had known him and now from the great gulf that separates us, I think of what kind of people we need in our public service and politics. Those who love to help and give, selflessly. Those who stand for some principles. And I feel that perhaps there are two kinds of greatness. One is that of the peaks of the Himalayas, which you can only look up to and admire but can never touch. The other is that of the earth that holds you up and that you can touch but you never realize its value until it is gone.  

And I think of the banyan tree, and of his personality wide and welcoming all to his shade. With its roots constantly returning to the ground to be even more connected with the earth. Always leaning downward, without pride, with respect and sincerity. 

I have seen the passage of a great banyan tree. As it falls, I see not a huge vacuum but of the thousands of seeds spread far and wide. I do not know how many will be borne to far distances and will sprout on their own. But it does not matter anymore. There is at least one seed of flame I carry within my own heart, with gratitude and joy, with silence and love. Perhaps his success can be measured in how he finally passed on.  

He was at peace and blessed us all as he prepared for his final departure. And he gazed at Sri Krishna, whom he adored all his life, and smiled at Sri Aurobindo (whom he called Guruji) and the Mother, with their invocations being played around him even as he struggled with his last breaths.  

I did not know how much I loved him. Now I can say that I did so deeply and do more than ever.   

and nothing quite so least as truth     
—i say though hate were why men breathe—     
because my Father lived his soul     
love is the whole and more than all.

Pariksith Singh MD

Author, poet, philosopher and medical practitioner based in Florida, USA. Pariksith Singh is on the advisory board of Satyameva.

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